Night of the Living Dead (1968) Review
Written by: SpookshowStudios
"I oughtta drag you out there and feed you to those things!"
Ah, Night. Every now and then, I like to freak myself out by trying to imagine just what in the hell the horror genre would look like today if George and his buddies hadn't scrounged up $60,000 and produced the greatest independant horror film ever made, if not the greatest horror film ever made, period.
A shocking and horrific film by today's standards, I can only assume that audiences 40 years ago simply could not handle what they saw. I mean, back then, a horror movie was something like Carnival of Souls or Rosemary's Baby; psychological thrillers with a touch of the supernatural thrown in for creepy atmosphere. Then all of the sudden we see a hoarde of mindless walking corpses fighting over somebody's disembowled intestines like a pair of hungry animals. I mean, back then, you just didn't do that in a movie! You just didn't!
Romero takes every established convention of the horror genre and kicks it in the ass--and nothing, and I mean not one damn thing, was ever the same.
The girl in the movie was supposed to fall in love with the attractive young guy and live happily ever after, not get eaten by the reanimated corpse of her murdered brother.
The nice guy and his girlfriend are supposed to grow up to get married and have kids, not burn to death in a firey explosion only to be devoured by monsters.
Kids were supposed to be saved from some horrible fate in the nick of time by the hero, not stab their mothers to death with garden trowels.
And goddammit, the whole entire cast was not supposed to die at the end of the movie!
But times change, and in the 1960's everything in American culture was up for grabs, from fashion to philosophy, and it was only a matter of time before the world of horror cinema was up-ended along with the rest of society.
Night of the Living Dead represents the end of a lot of things. It was the last truly great black and white horror film, released at a time when most horror films were moving to full, vivid color starting with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1958. It also marked the end of the dominant popularity of "gothic" horror, and from this day on the thirty year-old formula of crumbling castles and supernatural monsters of eastern European folklore would be a thing of the past.
But Night also represented a lot of new beginnings. Its spectacular popularity kick-started a second Golden Age of Horror that lasted for the next twenty years. It also marked a huge change in tone in the genre--from then on horror films would be judged by their ability to shock rather than their ability to creep. This is most evident in Wes Craven's first film, The Last House on the Left, which was released a few years after Night. Nothing as graphic and realistic as Last House could have seen the light of day in a pre-Romero world.
But most importantly, Night of the Living Dead brought the horror genre home. The devil wasn't creeping around Transylvania anymore, he was right out in the backyard waiting to bite your face off. The idea of the alien beast from a far off land now seemed old hat; the ghouls in Night were US. These were our friends and family, random victims of a random catastrophe that seemed so blood-curdlingly real that most people, as I said, simply couldn't handle what was on screen.
I'll not go into detail about the movie's plot (I assume anyone reading this review has already seen it), but I would like to draw attention to a specifict moment of the film: the power outage.
I've had the pleasure of talking to a few people who got to see Night in its orginal theatrical run, and apparently the people who had managed to stay through the movie up to this point and hadn't run out the theater or skidded out of the drive-in in abject terror were already completely whipped by what they'd seen thus far. I mean, we just saw a band of walking cadavers gnawing on human body parts, and all that's left for the characters to do is sit around and wait for the next emergency television broadcast, all the while trying to figure out what the hell they're gonna do now. Then, halfway throgh the broadcast, the lights go out.
I don't think I'm mincing words when I say that by this point the audience had become completely hysterical. This is the crucial point in the film when the audience first begins to suspect that things are not going to end well for these people. Don't forget, even after everything we've seen thus far, there still seems to be some hope for rescue or victory of some kind over the living dead. Now, sitting in the dark with an increasingly large hoarde of zombies closing in on them, we begin to subconciously sense that something even worse is coming our way
The simple act of killing the lights, one of the oldest tricks in the horror book, remains one of the most spine-tingling moments in film history. It also represents the major turning point in the history of the horror film, because after this, we the audience, like Ben, Barbara, Harry, Helen, and little Karen, simply aren't going to make it out the farmhouse alive. And what's worse, we know it.
This is what makes Night of the Living Dead the true masterpiece it is. Aside from being a great popcorn spookshow, it changed the face of the horror film forever and created a lasting archetype for what a scary movie could be.
So in closing, just remember: you might be able to make it into the cellar at the end of the movie, but odds are your daughter is waiting to eat you.